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A Singular Triumph

Toma Tasovac
April 24, 2007

It happened 25 years ago, Germany won the Eurovision Song Contest, which is why springtime is such a melancholy season for German music fans. It evokes memories of a singular triumph and a tradition of failure.

Some 600 million TV viewers watched Nicole win the Eurovision Song Contest in 1982Image: PA/dpa
"Hard Rock Hallelujah" was the winning song in 2006Image: AP

Contrary to popular belief, Germany is a land of dreamers. Every year, come springtime, when bees, educated fleas, Lithuanians and Letts start fantasizing of falling in love, Germans subject themselves to tantalizing rituals of wishful thinking, childish petulance and utter masochism by posing the "big" national question: "Could we -- this year perhaps, or even ever again -- really win the Eurovision Song Contest?"

Eurovision is a remarkable European tradition. Not only is it still the largest music event in the world, it is also a telling indicator of the changing image and notion of what Europe is.

In contrast to the elegant, black-tie affair which it was in the 1950s, Eurovision is nowadays a celebration of gory exaggeration -- a musical circus act that inspires national passions, instigates unusual political alliances and offers more surprising twists and turns than any modern-day casting show could ever hope to achieve.

An international musical battlefield

Ukraine Musik Verka Serduchka
Times have changed: transvestite singer Verka Serduchka will sing for Ukraine this yearImage: picture-alliance/ dpa

It is a battlefield of musical styles in which Ukrainian drag queens can perform along with Spanish boy bands, Israeli comedy acts, Norwegian senior citizens and a host of irreparably gloomy songs from the Balkans.

It is also the only democratic competition in the world in which a handful of televoting Monegasques and a couple of dozens of Andorrans have the same influence on the outcome as millions of Germans or Spaniards.

And it is a rare event at which Eastern European voters legally get to gang up on the West and divide most of the votes among themselves.

Germany's meager record

Germany's path to Eurovision glory has been laden with thorns rather than rose petals. Only once in the last five decades did Germany actually win the competition -- on April 24, 1982.

It still fits! Nicole likes to show off her victory dressImage: PA/dpa

Wearing a glittery black dress and playing a white guitar that screamed 80s kitsch in several languages, 17-year-old Nicole won a landslide victory for the Teutons by asking for "Ein bisschen Frieden" (A Little Bit of Peace) at the time when the Cold War was still a reality and Margaret Thatcher busy pursuing her Argentinean military adventure in the Falklands.

Nicole sang about being "just a girl who says what she feels" and "helpless like a bird against the wind" while Europe -- no matter how strange that may seem today -- decided that the Catholic schoolgirl look was a very in look that year, albeit, as one can now safely tell from a quarter-century distance, in a sad reject sort of way.

Nicole went on to sell millions of records, becoming eventually the uncrowned queen of the German schlager, the original pop-folk hybrid of the beer-garden variety that has been, much to the chagrin of Iberian sophisticates, successfully exported to Majorcan bars and discos catering to the German clientele as well. Good-bye, flamenco and hello, singing Fräulein!

Same old story

BdT Deutschland Fernsehen Musik Grand Prix 2007 Roger Cicero
Is Europe ready for a retro hit from Germany?Image: AP

Germany won second place on four occasions and came third no less than five times, but it also came last in 2005 when a modern-day casting show product Gracia failed to comprehend that she was actually supposed to sing the actual notes that the composer wrote for her.

The shame of coming last two years ago is still like an open wound in the German national consciousness. Nicole, who is these days respectably 42 years old and still riding high on her historic victory, still treasures her Eurovision dress and the famous white guitar. She also likes to point out that after all these years, the dress still fits her -- which is, indeed, quite an achievement.

But it's probably lonely at the top. Will any other German ever manage to join Nicole on the German Eurotrash Olymp? All eyes and ears are now set on Germany's darling swinging kid Roger Cicero and his feminist hit "Frauen regieren die Welt" (Women Rule the World).

Europe had a weird infatuation with heavy metal last year -- when a scary band of noise-producing Finnish vampires won against all logic and good sense -- but is the old continent ready to go retro this year when representatives from 42 countries gather in Helsinki in May?

In the demonically possessed world of hardcore Eurovision fans, hope dies last.